By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
It was a late fall day in 2011.
Janice Dust and her husband, Dick, had been out deer hunting and were headed home.
The phone rang and she answered.
Within seconds, she knew.
Following her annual physical exam in October, she had been called back in for further testing. After all the tests, biopsies, blood work and scans during the month that followed, she was expecting the news.
“It was the doctor’s office. They told me I needed to go see Dr. (Philip) Dy,” Janice recalled. “I knew right then and there. I had cancer.”
On December 9, 2011, Dr. Dy confirmed it. Janice had Stage 3 lymphoma.
“It was a fast-growing tumor in my abdomen,” she noted. “It was about the size of a tennis ball and Dr. Dy said we needed to address it quickly. But he couldn’t operate on that type of cancer.”
The following week Janice began chemotherapy treatments with the hope of shrinking the tumor. She had a treatment once every three weeks for six months.
“My treatments were amazing,” she noted. “My blood count never dropped. I wasn’t sick. I got a few sores in my mouth, but some medicine took those away.”
Janice did get tired, though.
“I did absolutely nothing during those treatments,” she admitted. “The first two weeks after a treatment I was simply exhausted. I’d start to feel better by the third week and then it was time for another dose. I didn’t work for eight months.”
Janice admittedly was scared. She certainly didn’t want the cancer to progress to Stage 4. But she knew she had to remain strong, especially when she looked at her grandchildren.
“I knew I had to fight for them,” she said.
About four months later – in April 2012 – Janice received the news every cancer patient wants to hear. The treatments had worked. Her cancer was in remission.
“Dr. Dy told me about a maintenance treatment that he was having very good results with,” Janice noted. “It was called Rituxan. It was administered through an IV and took about four hours every two months.”
For the next 3½ years, Janice lived a normal life. The Rituxan was working and the cancer remained in remission.
Now fast-forward to October 2015. The insurance company, despite the efforts of Dr. Dy, plus Dick and Janice, decided the Rituxan was no longer necessary.
“They said according to their studies, Rituxan was only needed for two years,” Dick said. “We fought it, but they wouldn’t change their mind. They said it cost $12,000 for every treatment. Janice had her last treatment in October (2015) and then the insurance company said ‘no more.’”
“We were having good results with the Rituxan,” Janice said. “When that was taken away, I was scared again. Dr. Dy said my cancer would come back, but I didn’t know how long it would take.”
As it turned, it took six months.
And if that wasn’t enough to worry about, Janice also had a sister with health issues. LeAnn Niemerg had colon cancer and passed away in January.
“One thing I can be thankful for is that I’ve never had a lot of pain. LeAnn had pain all the time,” Janice noted. “She battled it for two years. She was a strong and positive person. She was a good example for me. I knew I had to keep fighting.”
Janice would be put to the test just three months later.
In April 2016, a PET scan revealed the lymphoma was back, but at the Stage 2 level. Dr. Dy recommended a stem cell transplant and referred Janice to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
A stem cell transplant can be used to infuse healthy stem cells into the body to stimulate new bone marrow growth and suppress the cancer.
The physicians were able to remove healthy stem cells from Janice prior to the transplant. She also received some high doses of chemotherapy in an attempt to destroy as many of the cancer cells as possible. Plus, there were additional trips required for a variety of tests, blood work and x-rays.
On Monday, Aug. 15, the transplant was performed. Janice said it took about four hours. The transplant is much like a blood transfusion. Her stem cells were infused back into her body so they could travel to the bone marrow and begin making new blood cells.
She was also given a growth factor shot that helps the stem cells grow even faster.
Janice spent three weeks recovering in the hospital.
“I was really sick after the transplant,” she said. “I couldn’t eat at all. I might have eaten one plate full of food in two weeks. I had no appetite at all, but the doctors told me that was normal. I lost 20 pounds.”
She was finally released and returned to her rural Green Creek home on September 6.
“I feel like my energy is coming back, although it’s been slow,” Janice admitted. “The doctors said it could take up to a year.”
“I know she’s feeling better. She’s started telling me what I’m doing wrong again,” Dick said with a laugh.
“Grandma is getting grouchy again,” Janice added with a big smile.
And she certainly has something to smile about. Just two weeks ago, after yet another PET scan, Dr. Dy delivered the good news. Her cancer was in remission again.
“I prayed really hard that my cancer was under control again,” Janice said. “Really hard.”
Now Janice, 60, is looking forward to the future and getting back to the “Great Outdoors.” There are few things she enjoys more than being outside, whether it’s camping with her four grandkids – Kaleb, Kenzi, Kaylie and Alana – going deer hunting with her husband of 38 years or just taking walks.
“And we’re planning a trip to Disney World with the grandkids, too,” she quickly added.
Like many people who have gone through difficult and challenging times, Janice and Dick have experienced first-hand the love and generosity of family, friends, church and community.
“We want to thank everyone for the money donations, the food, prayers, cards and visits I received,” Janice noted. “We can’t tell you how much all of those things have meant to us. My family, Dick, the kids (Sara and Ryan), our friends and our church (Sigel St. Michael) have done so much and provided so much encouragement for me. It’s been wonderful.”
Does she have words of advice for others going through similar challenges?
“Stay strong, stay positive and pray,” Janice emphasized. “Some days you will wonder if that’s helping. I can tell you it does. There will still be bad days, but there will be more good days than bad ones.”
Another very important part of this story is the annual checkup. Janice said she’s rarely been sick, yet she continued those checkups. And as a result, her initial cancerous tumor was detected much sooner than it would have been.
Now as the clock ticks toward December 25, Janice is really looking forward to this holiday season.
“I didn’t know if I’d see Christmas this year,” she admitted. “I tried not to think about that. I see my family and all the things I have to be thankful for. I’m really excited about celebrating. This will be a special Christmas.”